Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says while the federal government and the provinces still need to hash out the specific terms of their individual bilateral health-care agreements, the total dollar value of the offer on the table is final.
LeBlanc told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, while he “wouldn’t have phrased it” as a take it or leave it proposal, because “that wasn’t the tone of the conversation,” the Liberals have no plans to increase the offer.
“What we’ve said is that is the financial commitment that we believe the Government of Canada is able to make,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a significant commitment, it’s a long term commitment, and we’ve invited the provinces to discuss with us to negotiate the best agreement within those financial parameters for their jurisdiction.”
This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the premiers for a long-awaited sit-down to discuss increasing health-care funding. The federal government is committing $196.1 billion over the next 10 years, of which $46.2 billion is new spending.
But the proposal is far less than the additional $28 billion a year the provinces were asking for, and many premiers said they were disappointed there wasn’t more new money in the offer.
“It looked to me like that was his first and only offer,” said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith at a press conference Thursday. “I’ll be meeting with my first minister colleagues on Monday to see what our response will be.”
“There is a great amount of disappointment,” she also said. “They’d been advocating on this issue for about two-and-a-half years. I think they were anticipating that the new money would be a lot more.”
The premiers are set to reconvene virtually Monday to discuss the proposal.
Meanwhile, LeBlanc said the federal government won’t be hearing counteroffers or asks for more money from the provinces, largely because it’s in a period of fiscal restraint, and trying not to further drive up inflation by overspending.
“We think in the current fiscal position for the government of Canada, it is a generous offer,” he said. “It’s a long term offer, as they had asked for, and we’ve invited them to begin bilateral conversations with our government to design these agreements for the priorities in their jurisdiction.”
The provincial and territorial governments are now set to develop “action plans” to lay out how they’ll use the funding and measure improvements to their respective health-care systems.
LeBlanc laid blame for the government’s current “fiscal reality” at the feet of the pandemic, and said the federal government sent billions of additional dollars to the provinces for health care to tackle COVID-19 — including vaccine procurement and administration — even if those funds weren’t through the Canada Health Transfer.
But when pressed on whether that fiscal reality is a problem of the government’s own making — for example by spending $4.6 billion in COVID-19 benefits overpayments to ineligible recipients — LeBlanc said spending during the pandemic to support Canadians was the right choice.
“We think those were the right decisions, but the financial position of the Government of Canada now as compared to five years ago is different,” he said. “But as we said, we have put out a significant amount of money over a longer term horizon than previous agreements had contemplated.”
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said he would uphold the Liberal deal with the provinces if he were elected prime minister, but that a Conservative government would make sure there’s more money to put on the table, while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the Liberal proposal “the bare minimum.”
LeBlanc said the federal government’s hope is still to finalize agreements with the provinces in the coming weeks so it can allocate funds in the upcoming spring budget.
With files from CTV News’ Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello